With the price tag for its liquefied natural gas terminal on Lelu Island expected to be in the neighbourhood of $11 billion, Pacific NorthWest LNG could easily look to meet the minimum requirements of the provincial and federal governments.
But that is not how president Greg Kist and the company operates.
Pacific NorthWest LNG filed for its environmental assessment certificate on March 25 with a document that includes detailed plans and studies on everything from impacts to the marine and terrestrial environments to the impact on the economy and social programs of the region.
A big part of that filing is registered professional biologist and environmental advisor Brian Clark, who outlined just some of the extra steps the company is taking to ensure the project is built in such a way that it mitigates any impact.
Protecting ocean inhabitants
Creating a 2.7-kilometre jetty trestle that leads to berthing facilities capable of handling large LNG tankers simply isn't possible without disturbing marine mammals in the area. While the environmental assessment document notes most would be driven out of the area by the sound of pile-driving for the marine loading dock in Porpoise Harbour, Pacific NorthWest LNG is being even more cautious when it comes to the waters of Hecate Strait.
"For each species we have a level and the mitigation for that is the same for all of them: We are not going to be using pile-driving out at the berthing area. Within Porpoise Channel there may be some pile-driving, but we are going to be using vibratory drilling wherever possible. That doesn't have a lot of noise. It is enough noise that they won't come around, but it is not a noise that will harm them at all," explained Clark.
"We're going to back that up, just to be safe. Whenever we are doing any sort of pile work out in the marine environment we will have marine mammal observers out there ... their job will be that whenever we do marine work, they will look out and whenever they catch sighting of marine mammals we will stop work until the animal has passed."
Blasting work will also be needed, but Clark said marine blasting regulations are strictly enforced by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
“We won’t be doing any blasting when there are runs of salmon or fry going out ... it will be limited to a couple of months,” he said.
Working with First Nations
Lelu Island is located on the traditional territory of the Tsimshian people, who have lived off the resources of the North Coast since time immemorial. While details are still being worked out, Pacific NorthWest LNG is working with the Metlakatla and Lax Kw’alaams to address their concerns both on the land and at sea. In fact, the company did not one but two studies on the archaeology of the site.
“We have had two different studies because we didn’t like the answer in the first study. It seemed shallow so we had a second study done to ensure it was done right,” explained Clark.
Terrestrially, Lelu Island is home to approximately 400 culturally modified trees (CMTs). Many of those trees will be preserved in a 30-metre buffer zone on the island, but the trees that need to be removed are being treated with respect to the people who used them.
“The CMTs on the site that will be taken down, we are still working on protocol with the First Nations. Our first option will be to offer those trees to the First Nations ... obviously the trees mean more to the First Nations so that is why we are offering them the trees first and we will deliver them wherever they wish,” he explained.
“Each tree will be cored so that they know the exact [age] of that tree and they know when the modification happened. That is the archaeological record.”
Another area where Pacific NorthWest LNG is working with First Nations relates to disposal-at-sea. Currently Brown’s Passage is the only site approved by Environment Canada, but Clark said not everyone is a fan of that option.
“We are also working with the Metlakatla on a study looking at possible alternative sites. The Metlakatla said they would prefer it go elsewhere, so we said ‘OK, let’s talk to the elders about where they would like it to go and look at ocean conditions to see where it could go,” he said.
“If there is a site that meets Environment Canada needs but also meets the needs of local First Nations, then we are going to pursue that.”
Protecting the atmosphere
Powering a plant that will operate 24 hours per day, 365 days a year is no easy task. While many options are available to power the plant, Clark said Pacific NorthWest LNG is choosing one of the greener options.
“We will be using aero-derivative engines, which are basically jet engines as opposed to a normal engine. They are much more fuel efficient and they are much cleaner so that all of our air emissions will be well below government standards with concern to air quality. It also uses less fuel so it reduces Greenhouse Gas emissions,” he said.
“With air quality, we are very comfortable to say it meets all provincial regulations and there is no concern there.”
Much like the operational phase, construction on the 160 hectares of land will also be an around-the-clock activity. However, Clark said residents of nearby Port Edward shouldn’t be concerned about being kept up at night.
“We have committed to making none of the large noises, such as pile driving or banging noises, during the night shift. During that time it will be more quiet maintenance and activities that don’t make much noise,” he explained.
“You won’t hear it off the island.”
Creating a legacy
Pacific NorthWest LNG plans to offset habitat lost through the clearing of the land as required by the government, but plans to go even further than that.
“We will take extra steps, because Greg Kist and others don’t want to just do what we have do, we want to leave legacy stuff,” said Clark, noting the company would be returning to the community to host open houses about habitat creation.
“We have some really nice ideas of our own that have to be tested from a geotechnical perspective. For the big projects, we want to do some neat stuff but we don’t want to assume we have all the good ideas ... we are willing to fund it to get it going, we are willing to be a participant, although we’re not saying we’ll be the lead because that should be the community. How can we create something that will go on for the next 20 to 30 years based on research and development that everyone gets involved in?”
That habitat creation ideology extends into using the material dredged from the sea floor. Clark said Pacific NorthWest LNG is hoping to do more with it than simply disposal-at-sea.
“We are looking at making better use of the dredged sediments. Instead of dumping it at Brown’s Passage, we want to use it to make more habitat. It is the same with the berthing site, we have some out-of-the-box ideas to create more habitat, that would use up pretty much all of the dredging,” he said.
Pacific NorthWest LNG is hoping to lead the way for other projects in the region when it comes to environmental sustainability by going above and beyond what it needs to do. Clark said it’s one of the reasons the company is looking forward to feedback gained during the April 2 to May 1 public comment period and bringing the project, in its entirety, to the people of the Northwest.